Aug 31 2010

IEEE 802.11af vs. IEEE 802.22

The first cognitive radio standard IEEE 802.22 that started standardization in 2004 approaches its final release after some years of standardization. Why is it going so slow recently and why is there no push from the industry, or are these statements wrong? Is “fixed broadband in rural areas based on cognitive radio” not that attractive to most operators, hence no massive push from the manufacturers to develop equipment.  Is the business case for fixed broadband in rural areas really positive when considering the risk of using access technology based on cognitive radio. Does there exist any initiatives to build an ecosystem around IEEE 802.22? In total, maybe cognitive radio is too immature and uncertain for the industry to make investments. However, it would certainly be interesting to see a realistic business case for IEEE 802.22.

Another standard which emerges is IEEE 802.11af, which will provide services similar to the traditional IEEE 802.11 standard, also known as WiFi when certified by the WiFi alliance. The main difference from the well known IEEE 802.11a/b/g standards is that IEEE802.11af will be a based on cognitive radio for operation in the TV White Spaces, that is the spectrum already allocated to the TV broadcasters and at the same time not used. No big investments are necessarily required in order to install and use a WiFi access point which actually can be done by everyone. The only prerequisite, when the regulatory rules are in place such as in the US,  is the need for an incumbent database that maintains data about used frequencies in the TV band.  Google has already announced that hey want to operate such a database. Rumors also say that WiFi alliance will certify IEEE 802.11af, which then will be WiFi, just based on cognitive radio.

The WiFi alliance which certifies WiFi products will be important for the success of IEEE 802.11af. In contrary, to my best knowledge, no such forums or alliance exist for IEEE 802.22. Maybe WiFi alliance could be the success factor required for the first commercialization of a cognitive radio technology in the TV white spaces, namely IEEE 802.11af. Also, rumors say that IEEE 802.11af only considers the minimum required cognitive functions for the first certified product, thus focus is on getting the standard released ASAP and then get products certified before FCC withdraws the rules. For later releases, more advanced functions could be introduced. This is similar to the IEEE 802.11b/g/n story.

In summary, maybe IEEE 802.11af will be seen commercially before IEEE 802.22 due to the speed of standardization and the ecosystem inherited from the WiFi alliance, even though IEEE 802.22 have existed for many years now. However, IEEE 802.22 should not be left out as it could be more attractive to general mobile networks if the use case and services offered are changed. For example, smaller cells such as micro-, pico- or femto-cells. Also mobility could be included. This would not be the most difficult change I guess. In fact, IEEE 802.22 would then be similar to WiMAX and LTE but with cognitive radio functions and opportunistic access. Such use cases and services could provoke more interests among the industry. Consequently, maybe an alliance or forum could be established for IEEE 802.22, or maybe the total IEEE 802.22 or the main cognitive functions could be adapted by the WiMAX Forum!